. . . Opening Pages — AWAKENING

It is autumn. I am standing outside, in front of my house, on the side of a mountain in Big Sur, California. I have come out to watch the sunset. The ocean is obsidian-smooth. The canyon wrinkles and rises up and up, vibrant with the humming of thousands of ancient redwood trees. I have heard this coastal region described as wild and lonely. I don’t know about that. I have always felt at home in the wildness of nature — and I have never felt lonely in it.

That it is autumn is significant, because this is a story that cycles from autumn to autumn — marked by events that spiral out and in and out again, far and wide, close and magnified. And, like now, when all moments swing around to autumn, and the light shines differently than at other times of the year — when, like now, the light that illuminates is turning a deep honey-colored amber — I am reminded of this story.

I found the amber heart in an antique store. It caught my eye from inside a long glass display case. I bent down to take a closer look. It resembled honey-colored egg yolks, frozen into a heart shape. I had never seen amber before. I thought it must be plastic — or bakelite. In the center was a tiny pinprick-sized reddish dot — like a drop of blood. I bent lower, to view the underside through the glass shelf. A tiny white sticker read, “Amber Heart — $50”. Instantly, my throat tightened. It was a strange reaction. I stood up, intending to walk on, but couldn’t — I couldn’t move. I looked down at the heart again.

“What is amber, anyway?” I whispered. “What’s with this silly little heart? And why does a piece of plastic cost so much money?”

Thoughtfully, reluctantly, I turned away. All the way home, though, and for two days after, all I could think about was the amber heart. Each time I did, my throat tightened in that same response.

“There’s something about that heart,” I told Jack. “It’s making me crazy!”

“Go back and buy it!” he laughed. “If you’re still thinking about it, maybe you’re supposed to have it.”

Duh. Of course. Buy it.

When I phoned, the antique store readily agreed to set it aside for me, but within minutes they called back to say the amber heart was missing. I described the exact location — the exact glass case. Were they looking in the right place? Oh, they knew about that heart — it was a consignment piece. The owner was an eccentric elderly woman, who, periodically, for no apparent reason, removed pieces and then mislaid them. Evidently she’d picked up the amber heart the day before, and when they spoke with her, she couldn’t find it. They promised to search for it — to call as soon as it was found — if I was still interested in buying it. By now, I was extremely interested.

Days passed. Weeks. Two months. I frequently called the antique store, but the heart had not turned up. Meanwhile, I became fascinated with amber. I studied the geological locations where it was found — the different types and qualities.

“The dictionary says it’s fossilized resin from trees — millions of years old!” I announced to Jack. Tree resin! “It says it’s hard, easily polished, and quickly electrified by friction. Isn’t that intriguing?”

Intriguing — but it still didn’t explain why I was suddenly attracted to petrified goop from trees — nor why I was so obsessed with that one specific heart.

Jack shrugged. “Simple. Think about it. You grew up in the country, at the edge of a farm. You’ve always been very connected to nature. You’re the only person I know who talks to trees — really talks to trees. And this “goop” you refer to comes from trees. I see the connection.”

Trees. Tree resin. Oh. My attraction now took on a whole new meaning. There was no question I loved nature — especially trees. In fact, I was more comfortable talking to trees than to people. And now I suddenly remembered some particular trees — my God — I hadn’t thought of them in years — seven walnut trees, and one giant sycamore — that stood at the edge of a long meadow behind the barn at my grandparents’ farm.

During my childhood, I’d often hiked to these trees. They had been my friends. I’d spent hours talking with them, sharing my feelings, asking their advice, but mostly I loved just sitting with them in silence. Their place in the meadow had been between a dense forest and a marshy pond. Positioned slightly outside the defined line of the forest, they’d formed an odd circle. Now, the memory of them came rushing up from deep inside me — even as I heard Jack continuing.

“— Native Americans believe in tree spirits — in everything having a spirit — as do other cultures. In some tribes, warriors slept at the base of a tree the night before a battle — to receive protection or courage from the tree spirit. Druids worshipped in groves of trees —”

But his voice faded into the background. I was already far, far away — tumbling down a dark tunnel — falling, falling. This was not a simple matter. Not just about finding a silly object in a glass case. No. This was bigger than that. Much bigger. And the tightness I’d felt in my throat since that day in the antique store suddenly moved to my heart.